The static nature of the zoning code can make it an ineffective tool in helping communities address changing needs and conditions in their neighborhoods. It’s time to create a more dynamic planning process that explicitly addresses community well-being, not just form.
The next mayor should endeavor to create a nimble and responsive system that continuously collects data on performance and feeds it back into the planning process. As communities set goals for the well-being of their human and natural systems, emerging “Big Data” tools now enable us to get real-time feedback about the outcomes of development decisions and continuously adapt policy accordingly.
For example, neighborhoods could establish parking standards based on quality-of-life goals like walkability, bikeability, street vitality, and commercial presence. Communities could then collect real-time parking and mobility data and revisit zoning parking requirements each year based on current patterns. The city could tie this to a dynamic pricing system that increases prices during peak times to meet mobility goals.
Community health is another example. If a neighborhood is struggling with child asthma rates, it can set a reduction goal and use planning tools to address it. The zoning code could limit certain uses that create health hazards, and owners could gain “use it or lose it” density bonuses by retrofitting buildings using non-toxic materials, natural ventilation and green roofs.
Zoning is important, but it cannot achieve comprehensive results without being used in concert with other planning and policy strategies, including building codes, incentives, and investments in infrastructure. The key is creating a dynamic system that is always adapting to community needs and that features increased collaboration among a range of agencies (City Planning, Housing, Transportation, Energy, Health, Education, etc.) to achieve common goals.